Live and Learn
Many of us will have used the short proverb, “live and learn”, at some time. These three words reveal a vital activity common to us all. From the time of birth right up to old age our lives are a continuous learning process. At birth our senses become programmed to absorb information from the people and the environment around us. We then go through different stages of life in which we continue to develop and learn - first from our parents and elders, then from our teachers at school and university. After qualifying, we may enter the corporate world where again we have to undergo rigorous training before we can start earning our living. And all the while, alongside the formal education, our experiences in life teach us to mature both socially and personally.
This outward learning is essential to enable us to function and succeed in the world but it does not provide everything we need and, in the end, when we leave this plane it will be discarded. However, mystics tell us that there is something of great value which, if learnt, would go with us when we die. This is the understanding of truth.
In the seventeenth century an English clergyman wrote a poem called “Reason” in which he said, “We live and learn, but not the wiser grow”. This may seem a contradiction but he explains what he means in another line when he says that we “must first disrobe the mind, and all unlearn”, because this “will smooth the way to truth”.
The “truth” is the wisdom hidden inside of us which the world is seeking outside. Inside us is the way back to the Creator who has placed within us his own spirit, the Shabd. When we have the good fortune to come in contact with a perfect Master, he tells us that to reach the understanding of truth, we must leave our mind behind because no amount of intellect will make us any wiser in the way that will benefit us at the end. Maharaj Charan Singh explains this in Spiritual Perspectives Vol.1:
If you’re full of ego or intellect, this will keep you from the real wisdom, from the spiritual experience and spiritual truth, which the Lord has put within every one of us.
When we embark on our spiritual journey, we are doing nothing but learning this truth. We come to understand the saints’ teachings and follow their instructions for daily meditation, taking the mind inward instead of outward.
If we think we learned patience and focus in our worldly education, we soon realize that we have learned nothing at all when we start attempting to meditate. Remembering that it took us many years before we could start earning our living, how can we think we can get immediate fruit from our meditation? If we have to unlearn everything we know and retrain the mind to go in a different direction from that of many millions of previous lives, it is hardly surprising that the saints say that it can take more than one lifetime to see any results.
But as in the world, where unpaid college studies are the necessary preliminary to having a job, so with each day of meditation when we think we are making no progress, we are actually in that steady preliminary stage. When the time comes, we will start gaining the benefits - they will come as a result of the patient training we’ve been undergoing with our Master.
When we were in school there were times when each of us questioned the point of learning certain subjects which we judged as possibly useless in ‘real life’. We didn’t realize that all the time we were developing our basic skills, making us ready, when the time came, to take on the world. Similarly, when we are meditating, although we may not see any light or hear any sound, we are most certainly developing our spiritual skills in readiness for the Lord’s grace, whenever he chooses to give it. One fine day, when the time is right, it may seem that we experience this bliss ‘out of the blue’ - ‘just like that’! But, as we know, nothing really happens ‘out of the blue’. It will be the result of that patient, steadfast training in meditation. That is why the Masters tell us just to sit. As never missing a class or lecture was of utmost importance when at school, so we must never miss a day of meditation - because every little bit counts.
When we were children we didn’t have a clue why we were told to focus on our studies so much or how it was going to help us in the future. We simply listened to our parents and teachers. This is because, deep down, we truly believed that they knew what they were talking about. They’d seen more of life than we had and so they knew what was going to be best for us.
Similarly, our Master is like the best parent and teacher. He has come from the highest spiritual region to this inferior plane for our sake. He would not waste his time asking us to do something which is not important. He is more eager to see us through to the end than we are to get there.
Many of us are like infants on this spiritual journey. We don’t realize that we have so much essential learning to do and we lack appreciation for the importance of meditation. But all we need is faith in our Master. Let’s take a firm grip of his hand and while living and learning his wisdom, walk through life with him.